The nightmare of attributing OERs

Recently, I worked with Gabi Witthaus in the development and delivery of the Storyboarding for Learning Design Open Online Course (OOC), with Jeff Stanford’s support as a facilitator. We designed the course drawing from our experience in topic-related workshops. We used open educational resources (OERs), which are materials released under a licence that permits their free use and re-purposing. Some, we had developed ourselves. Others were created by other academics. Attributing everything correctly was a nightmare.

As I was working in the Storyboarding OOC, I was also working in the redesign of a MOOC on Learning Design, which will be delivered in EMMA. I was simultaneously creating activities and materials for both courses. While each course is unique, the content is similar. Eventually I had to ask myself: Should I say that the EMMA MOOC is based on the OOC or the OOC based on the EMMA MOOC? Should I attribute my own work? Is a note at the beginning of the OOC, stating that I am a co-creator of the materials, enough for people to understand that everything that does not state otherwise was created by me? How important is it to be that specific?

For both courses, I used OERs I have used in the past. I decided to check if my previous attributions were correct. I discovered that some OERs were widely used, but it was unclear who the original author was. For example: I found an OER used by A, who attributed the OER to B. However, I could also find the same OER attributed to C, and to D, and to E. So who was the actual creator? Sometimes, when I find an OER without an attribution, I assume the author of whatever I am looking at is also the author of the OER (for example: imagine an image within a text; if the image has no attribution, I assume the author of the text is also the creator of the image). A number of people seem to share my assumption. What if the assumption is incorrect? What if the author simply did not write the correct attribution? Who to attribute then? If both B and C use an OER without attributing it, how do you know who is the actual author?

And this is just the beginning. One of the activities is about how to ruin a course. A similar activity was developed in the past by Rebecca Galley and the OULDI team at the Open University UK, 2009. However, our version of this activity is very different. The idea behind it is the same, but everything else is different. Should we attribute it? In other words, how much does an OER need to be modified before it doesn’t really make sense to attribute it? For the OOC, we decided to have a note stating that our activity was inspired by the other OER.

But sometimes it is trickier than that. Have you ever had an “original” idea that -you later find out- was published before by someone else? I have created activities that I later find as OERs elsewhere. (A simple example: Think about a welcome activity where you ask participants to introduce themselves. Lots of people have created a similar activity.) What do you do about it in terms of attribution? Is it really your work? What if you had seen that OER before but you didn’t remember?

Sometimes I look for several OERs on the same topic and I create my own resource based on them. Should I attribute all the OERs? None at all? Only the one that had the most influence on my resource? What if the lines are not clear cut?

Finally, what if I want to use an OER that was inspired by another one? (The Storyboarding OOC’s activity on how to ruin a course is a great example of this). Should I attribute both the creator of the OER and the inspirators?

Attributing OERs gives me a headache.

OER Attribution Problems

  1. Creating similar materials for two courses and having to decide if one is based on the other one.
  2. Finding the original author of widely used OERs with unclear attributions.
  3. Deciding if being inspired by an OER is enough to require an attribution, or how much does an OER need to be modified before you can’t really say it is based on someone else’s work.
  4. Attributing a resource based on several OERs.

I don’t have answers for all my questions. But I’ve come up with certain ideas that help. Using full OERs (not trying to build upon several of them or change them considerably) prevents lots of problems. Also, favouring public domain resources (thank you all who let everyone use your work without minding the attribution) works, especially when you want to build upon materials. Attribution builders available online help you establish a standard when attributing and identify data required. They also provide guidance on how to attribute derivative works (thank you, Gabi, for the info!). 

If you have any other answers or suggestions, please share! I would be more than happy to learn.


The problem when searching for OERs

Open educational resources (or OERs) are materials for teaching and learning that are offered freely for anyone to use, repurpose and/or redistribute. Examples include diagrams, homework assignments, quizzes, presentations, course modules and activities. Several repositories, such as OER Commons and Jorum, enable teachers and students to access these resources. People can also contribute by creating and posting their own OERs.

While the basic idea seems interesting and helpful, there are still challenges when searching for OERs. Several initiatives have attempted to list the available OER repositories. For example:

There are easily over 50 repositories around the world. These repositories have different parameters, such as the languages, educational levels and topics they focus on. Thus, their resources tend to be different. Some repositories have few search filters (or none at all) and rely on keywords to help people find what they need. For a common teacher, not entirely familiar with all the OER repositories available and their characteristics, trying to find a truly suitable resource can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.  I have taken so long in my search for suitable OERs that I have simply decided that creating materials myself, from scratch, requires a lesser time investment.

A search engine that enabled people to search all existing OERs respositories at once, using different filters, could solve the search/find problem. Actually, many people look for OERs using Google, probably due to its easiness. What other alternatives can you think of? What has been your experience with OERs?